The Consent of Sound and Meaning: The Music of Eric RichardsEric Richards/loadbang/Ekmeles

, composer


Composer Eric Richards approached listening as an embodied activity, an amalgamation of the auditory, psychological, and emotional experience we have hearing artistic sound. This album, produced by loadbang’s Andy Kozar and Ekmeles’ Jeffrey Gavett, features several of Richards entrancing chamber works performed by Ekmeles, loadbang, Gavett, and Kozar as well as a host of New York based freelancers, and shines a light on a composer whose poetic approach to compositional, observation, and technology has been widely overlooked previously.


Composer Eric Richards shared a penchant for deconstructing musical elements with his modernist contemporaries. And, like many of them, he used technology as a tool to examine and consider subtleties of sound and expression. But unlike his peer composers who then proceeded to write electronic and electro-acoustic music, Richards primarily used his chosen tool, the tape recorder, to conduct research on sound. After pondering it from many angles, he returned to the acoustic medium to produce works that reflect a prismatic stance on musical ideas, presented with almost scientific detachment and wonderment in the same breath. This collection of Richards’ works was co-curated by loadbang and Ekmeles, two ensembles with a deep dedication to advocating for under-appreciated gems of the avant-garde.

The Consent of Sound and Meaning opens with the declamatory A Fanfare for Diebenkorn for three trumpets, all played by loadbang’s Andy Kozar. Richard Diebenkorn was an abstract expressionist painter based in California; one can hear Richards capturing the austerity of reorganized visual elements in the pointed staccato notes followed by a sustained tone. Wingsets is the largest work on the album in terms of instrumentation. Written for a vibrantly colorful ensemble of nine instrumentalists and nine singers (including the baritone soloist, here Steve Hrycelak), it sets two simultaneously overlaid texts drawn from the Catholic liturgy. Richards contrasts clusters with wide leaps of a ninth in the solo part, and the short work evokes Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles in its spare, direct quality.

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The Mouth of Night for twelve “breathers,” focuses our attention on the intimate sounds of exhalation and inhalation. By limiting the vocalist to breathing sounds with no annunciation of syllables, much less words, Richards explores a pre-linguistic state in which sonic meaning is the byproduct of elemental bodily function. The earliest work on the album, Rocks; Gardens (1970) is a kaleidoscopic duo for trumpet and piano that trades variations of articulations and gesture between the two instruments, highlighting how different similar material can sound on contrasting sound producing objects. Kozar plays into the strings of the piano towards the end of the piece while pianist Steve Beck holds down the sustain pedal, triggering sympathetic resonance and fusing the two instruments in a hybrid, sonic halo.

Owls, Too for six female voices excerpts texts from an Edward Elgar song about the beguiling qualities of nature. Staggered leaps in the soprano dart up from closely spaced clusters in the ensemble, as Richards captures the unsettling mystery of the sounds of the natural world. Fire, Fire!, for baritone voice, trumpet, trombone, and bass clarinet and performed here by loadbang, is a setting of a text by Renaissance lute composer Thomas Campion. Richards paints Campion’s lyrical text with pointillistic gestures in the trumpet and bass clarinet and undulating figures in the trombone, preserving the verse structure and something of the cadence of Renaissance song despite the characteristically contemporary intervallic leaps in the vocal part.

Hymn to Santa Maria (Rotting Christ) for two baritone voices and six cuícas is based on the song “Santa Maria” by Greek metal band Rotting Christ. The cuica (a Brazilian friction drum) remarkably mimics the rumbling of distorted bass and low register guitar chords as Jeff Gavett’s sinister overdubbed baritone tracks intone lyrics from the Greek group’s song. The studio plays a prominent role in the track as it evolves, processing the vocals with ring modulation and other effects.

The title track and the longest work in this collection, The Consent of Sound and Meaning was the first piece Richards composed using the tape recorder as a tool. He recorded a violin on tape, and subsequently reversed, looped, and manipulated it, then transcribing the results to create the ten double bass parts. After eight minutes of patient mining of these sounds from every angle, we hear the seven trumpet parts enter, which are similarly a transcription of a recording of an ambulance siren. The brilliant luminosity of the texture belies its genesis, unfolding as a meditation on simple sonic building blocks, and the symbiotic relationship between sound and meaning.

– Dan Lippel

Recorded and Mastered by Ryan Streber, Oktaven Audio
Produced by Jeff Gavett and Andy Kozar
Cover art by Larry Schulte and Alex Eckman-Lawn
Design by Alex Eckman-Lawn



New York City-based new music chamber group loadbang is building a new kind of music for mixed ensemble of trumpet, trombone, bass clarinet, and baritone voice. Since their founding in 2008, they have been praised as ‘cultivated’ by The New Yorker, ‘an extra-cool new music group’ and ‘exhilarating’ by the Baltimore Sun, ‘inventive’ by the New York Times and called a 'formidable new-music force' by TimeOutNY. Their unique lung-powered instrumentation has provoked diverse responses from composers, resulting in a repertoire comprising an inclusive picture of composition today. In New York City, they have been recently presented by and performed at Miller Theater, Symphony Space, MATA and the Avant Music Festival; on American tours at Da Camera of Houston, Rothko Chapel, and the Festival of New American Music at Sacramento State University; and internationally at Ostrava Days (Czech Republic), China-ASEAN Music Week (China) and Shanghai Symphony Hall (China).

loadbang has premiered more than 250 works, written by members of the ensemble, emerging artists, and today's leading composers. Their repertoire includes works by Pulitzer Prize winners David Lang and Charles Wuorinen; Rome Prize winners Andy Akiho and Paula Matthusen; and Guggenheim Fellow Alex Mincek. Not content to dwell solely in the realm of notated music, loadbang is known for its searing and unpredictable improvisations, exploring the edges of instrumental and vocal timbre and technique, and blurring the line between composed and extemporaneous music. To this end, they have embarked on a project to record improvisations and improvised works written by members of the ensemble. These recordings are designed, fabricated, and released in hand-made limited editions. loadbang can also be heard on a 2012 release of the music by John Cage on Avant Media Records, a 2013 release of the music of loadbang member Andy Kozar titled 'On the end...' on ANALOG Arts Records which was called ‘virtuosic’ by The New Yorker, a 2014 release on ANALOG Arts Records titled Monodramas, a 2015 release on New Focus Recordings titled LUNGPOWERED which was called ‘new, confident, and weird’ by I Care If You Listen and 'an album of quietly complex emotions' by The New Yorker, and a 2017 Bridge Records release titled Charles Wuorinen, Vol. 3, featuring the music of Charles Wuorinen.

loadbang is dedicated to education and cultivation of an enthusiasm for new music. They have worked with students ranging from elementary schoolers in the New York Philharmonic's Very Young Composers program and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids Program to college aged student composers at institutions including Columbia University, Cornell University, Manhattan School of Music, New York University, Peabody Conservatory, Princeton University, University of Buffalo, and Yale University. They are in residence at the Charlotte New Music Festival, the Longy School of Music's summer program Divergent Studio, and all four members are on the instrumental and chamber music faculty of the Longy School of Music of Bard College in Boston.


Ekmeles is a vocal ensemble dedicated to the performance of new and rarely-heard works, and gems of the historical avant garde. They have a special focus on microtonal works, and have been praised for their "extraordinary sense of pitch" by the New York Times. They are the recipients of the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation's 2023 Ensemble Prize, the first American group to receive the honor.

As part of their work expanding the possibilities of tuning and technique in vocal music, Ekmeles has given world premieres by composers including John Luther Adams, Taylor Brook, Courtney Bryan, Ann Cleare, Zosha Di Castri, Erin Gee, Martin Iddon, Hannah Kendall, Christopher Trapani and James Weeks.

In addition to creating their own repertoire, Ekmeles is dedicated to bringing the best of contemporary vocal music to the United States that would otherwise go unheard. They have given US premieres by composers including Joanna Bailie, Carola Bauckholt, Aaron Cassidy, Beat Furrer, Stefano Gervasoni, Evan Johnson, Bernhard Lang, Liza Lim, Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, Lucia Ronchetti, Wolfgang Rihm, Rebecca Saunders, Salvatore Sciarrino, Mathias Spahlinger, and Agatha Zubel.

Collaborations with other musical ensembles and artists has been a part of Ekmeles's work from the very beginning. In their first several seasons they gave the US premieres of Luigi Nono's Quando stanno morendo with AMP New Music, and Beat Furrer's FAMA with Talea Ensemble. Their collaborations with Mivos Quartet include the US premieres of Stefano Gervasoni's Dir - In Dir and Wolfgang Rihm's concert-length ET LUX. Ekmeles joined with members of Tilt Brass and loadbang for the US premiere of Mathias Spahlinger's monumental über den frühen tod fraüleins anna augusta marggräfin zu baden, and Wolfgang Rihm's SKOTEINÓS. Ekmeles also collaborates beyond the traditional concert stage, including the integration of singers into choreographic works by New Chamber Ballet, and a staged memorized performance of David Lang's the little match girl passion at the MET Breuer Museum directed by Tony award winning director Rachel Chavkin. They also gave sold-out performances with Oliver Beer's Vessel Orchestra, the first sound-based installation commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Director Jeffrey Gavett performed at the keyboard of this instrument, composed of 32 resonant hollow objects spanning 1,000 years of the museum's collection. In 2022 they sang as part of John Luther Adams's installation work Veils and Vesper, broadcast on WNYC's New Sounds.

In January of 2020 they released their debut album A howl, that was also a prayer on New Focus Recordings, with works by Taylor Brook, Erin Gee, and Christopher Trapani. Fanfare magazine said the album's performances were "beyond expert - almost frightening in their precision." In the spring of 2020 through May 2021, Ekmeles continued to bring their performances to audiences in authentic ways despite the difficulty of singing together. They performed innovative streaming concerts that combined elements of video art created by members of the ensemble, pre-recorded performances, and live synchronous online performing. Ensemble members performed simultaneously from San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York.

12 Oct, 2023

New Focus releases on 2023 Grammy Ballot

New Focus releases on 2022 Grammy Ballot:Best Engineered Album/ClassicalEngineer, Ryan Streber - Eric Richards/loadbang/Ekmeles: The Consent Of Sound And Meaning - The Music Of Eric Richards Best Opera Recording Reiko Füting: Mechthild Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance; Best Contemporary Classical Composition; “And the Moses Drowned” by Mahdis Golzar KashaniRecording of the …

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— Dave Lake, 1.25.2023


Take Effect Reviews

The inimitable composer Eric Richards took an unusual route of deconstructing music for these 8 iconoclastic tracks, where a tape recorder was used to flesh out these avant-garde and artistic ideas that take some exceptional help.

“A Fanfare For Diebenkorn” opens the listen with loadbang’s Andy Kozar, who brings his expressive and eloquent 3 trumpets to the quick, warm climate, and “Wingsets” follows with 9 instrumentalists and 9 singers who emit much mystery, atmosphere and unpredictableness as Steve Hrycelak’s baritone is quite memorable.

At the halfway point, “Rocks; Gardens” pairs bright trumpet from Kozar with atmospheric keys thanks to Steven Beck to elicit a contrasting climate, while “Owls, Too” showcases 6 female voices that present excerpts texts from an Edward Elgar song with incredible attention to detail.

Approaching the end, the buzzing of “Hymn To Santa Muerta (Rotting Christ)” recruits Jeffrey Gavett’s baritone pipes and Jude Traxler’s cuica for the darker spirit of the rumbling, distorted bass and lower registers, and the title track exits with Robert Black’s basses and Kozar’s trumpets for 16+ minutes of violin recorded to tape that was reversed, looped, manipulated and meshed with 10 double bass parts and 7 trumpet parts for the meditative finish.

Richards passed in 2020 due to renal failure at the age of 84. He artistic and collage oriented view of experimental sounds made him a luminary for decades, and he inspired legions of other musicians. This late period body of work carries on his legacy perfectly.

— Tom Haugen, 7.09.2023



Before entering the music of the late New York-based composer Eric Richards, who died in 2020 at age 84, you are presented with a fork in the road. You can follow the diverse and very dense theoretical concepts that underpinned Richards’s experimentations, or you can venture on your own as a listener without the props of intellectualization. The same fork in the road is met with John Cage, Morton Feldman, and other avant-garde composers who were the musical equivalent of the Abstract Expressionist painters dominating the postwar New York art scene. The eye sees dribbles of paint in a Jackson Pollack, from which art theorists derive rivers of explanation and meta-art significance.

The same can be said of what sounds like simple, even primitive, pieces by Richards—a string of staccato and sustained trumpet notes (A Fanfare for Diebenkorn), a jangling, seemingly random dialogue for trumpet and piano (Rocks; Gardens), eight minutes of overdubbed sounds from a double bass followed by eight minutes of overdubbed trumpet (The Consent of Sound and Meaning, which is also the album title). Richards, who graduated from Mannes College and later taught there, had minimal formal training in composition. He devoted his career to following his own intuitions and curiosity. We get four vocal works here, setting texts as varied as the Catholic liturgy, a poem by Thomas Campion, the lyrics to an Elgar part song, and a Greek heavy metal band distastefully named Rotting Christ.

What seems like a gallimaufry of experimental ideas actually represents Richards’s participation in an avant-garde scene of historical importance. Whether he made significant contributions to it isn’t for me to say—this is my first encounter with his music. But I came away from these eight pieces with a certainty that they cannot be appreciated through naïve listening.

For example, the third track on the disc, if listened to naïvely, sounds like punctuated breathing, absent any musical values like notes or rhythm. Richards often relied heavily on overdubbing single voices and instruments, and here we get baritone Jeffrey Gavett’s breath sounds overdubbed a dozen times. As a listening experience, it cannot hint at the conceptual basis of this work, titled The Mouth of the Night, after an ancient Egyptian ritual for the passage of the dead into the afterlife.

This review would be impossibly long if I quoted from the densely erudite program notes for all eight works, but a single example will give the flavor of the whole. “The Mouth of Night (1995–96) for twelve breathers, is a musical refl­ection on the linguistic evolution of Indo-European languages from Hittite to Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin, which Richards explores through different styles of inhalations and exhalations … Richards intended to highlight ‘the intersection in this piece between a psychologically ambiguous present (the period between day and night, waking and sleep) and an earlier time at the dawn of our linguistic history.’”

This is very self-serious verbiage applied to a self-serious composer embedded in a solipsistic community. How you respond, given the immense distance between theory and practice—after all, the piece is just the sound of punctuated breathing—will depend on your response to the Cage-Feldman branch of the avant-garde. There are times when Richards hit upon aural imagery that is unusually striking. Hymn to Santa Muerte, which is named after a Mexican cult figure, Our Lady of Holy Death, is described as follows: “The cuíca (a Brazilian friction drum) remarkably mimics the rumbling of distorted bass and low register guitar chords as Jeff Gavett’s sinister overdubbed baritone tracks intone lyrics from [Rotting Christ’s] song.” Add the effect of electronic manipulation, and the piece’s sound world is gripping and eerie.

This collection spans Richards’s career from early (1970) to late (2018), and credit is due to his ability to devise memorable sound experiments. The performers, all expert musicians from the New York area, are largely drawn from the vocal ensemble Ekmeles and the instrumental quartet loadbang. They exuberantly meet every demand placed before them. For the intellectually inclined, the program notes by Professor Eric Smigel of San Diego State University offer immersion into the high-concept ethos of the music.

— Huntley Dent, 7.10.2023

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